COLUMN: Publishing Antonio Brown column was a failure of judgment, leadership
We screwed up. Or more specifically, I screwed up.
On Friday, Jan. 18, Central Michigan Life published a story about the donation made by former Central Michigan football player Antonio Brown. He donated heated benches for the Central Michigan football team. The donation is valued at $105,000 and was a nice gesture by a former player who many current players and students look up to.
After we published the story, we published an opinion column written by one of our editors. In that column he criticized Brown, the donation and questioned Brown's support of his alma mater. Most readers were upset after reading the opinion column – some were outraged. They began commenting on the Facebook post and tweeting at CM Life about their disappointment with the piece and with us.
This prompted me, the editor-in-chief, to remove the story and social media posts. I also made a public statement on CM Life’s social media. The column did not meet our standard for publication and should never have been published as it was presented Friday. I needed to be firm with the author while editing his column. I needed to say no to publishing it Friday, and I didn’t do that.
I want people to understand the decision to unpublish the column, and take it off social media, was not one made to silence the author. It was also not done, as some people have implied, because an administrator made us take it down.
It was my decision.
I made that decision because we published a flawed piece of work. It was not to undermine free speech or journalism or to hurt the author. As an organization, we need to take our staff and our readers into consideration. We needed to admit we made a mistake and be willing to own up to it. The best solution, to me, was to take down the column.
We did not use proper judgment, and give the opinion column and the subject of the column, the consideration it deserved. Our adviser has always encouraged us to separate the publishing of news coverage and opinion writing about the same topic. We usually publish editorials, (the opinion of CM Life) or opinion columns (the opinion of one staffer), about a topic several days after the reporting has been published. That allows readers, and opinion writers, a chance to understand the topic first before exploring opinions on the subject. We did not do that Friday. We also did not reach out to our adviser, who was not on campus Friday, for additional help with writing, fact-checking and editing the opinion column. He ended up reading it along with our readers and was one of the first people to point out the issues he saw in the column.
We at CM Life want to give readers various opinions and perspectives. In fact, some students agreed with the opinion column and were upset when it was taken down. Although it is an opinion column, we should set an even higher standard for presenting factual evidence and thorough reporting before publishing opinions about a topic. The column published on Jan. 18 did not have that. It needed more oversight, especially from me, the only editor that read the opinion column before it was published. I feel like I also let the author of the column down on Friday.
Most certainly, we let the university and our readers down.
I am confident in the work CM Life has done during Fall 2018 and so far this semester. I am confident we will continue to produce news and sports stories, investigations and, yes, opinion pieces that you, the reader, also can be proud of. This incident showed us the power our work has on our audience – alumni, staff, students, community members – and what happens when we do not give our work the proper care and attention it deserves. On Sunday, we met as a staff and I feel confident that this type of mistake won’t happen again with me as your editor-in-chief.
We want our readers to know you can trust us to tell your stories in a fair and objective way. We will keep following our mission of serving as the student voice, and living up to the standards set by the people who worked here almost 100 years before us.
To Antonio Brown, your university appreciates your donation. I apologize for publishing a column that cast the donation in any light other than a Chippewa supporting the next generation of Chippewas.
We screwed up on Friday. We are committed to doing a better job for you going forward, starting right now.